Tapestry of Joy
If the theory that postulates an infinite number of parallel universes is correct, then the following definitely happened:
In a universe very much like our own apart from a few crucial details, an earnest, sweet natured woman called Joy sat in a back garden near Hatcham in South London. From her garden seat she could see the St Pauls Cathedral about five miles to the north. The date was on June 30th 1908. She breathed the summer air and contemplated the sources of the deep contentment she now felt. The house where she had lived with her husband Robert for thirty five years stood behind her. Robert had risen steadily in his career at Whitehall and was now just about to retire. Their son David had been raised as a Englishman and a Christian, and was now travelling the world combining entrepreneurial and missionary endeavours. She regarded the wider world with awe and fear, and was glad that she had remained here at its civilised hub. She was proud of the efforts of her husband and her son to tame the chaos and savagery and bring the rest of the world closer to agreeable harmony, and so to God.
Her mental image of the wider world came from her education augmented by dinner party conversation and her son’s letters. The uncivilised fringes of the world contained hot sweaty forests teeming with hazards where black savages expressed bestial urges in lascivious rituals. Widows were burned alive and animals worshipped. In her mind Hell, the lowest rung of existence, was a distillation of these things. As Christians, it was their duty to tame them. Heaven, the highest realm of existence, was the summation of efficient, firm but fair governance, ingenious engineering, and meticulous diligence. It was these qualities that had set the forests and the fields and the rivers to productive use, and raised the people of these islands closer to Heaven, which was probably a vast stately home set in a carefully laid out garden with acres of perfectly trimmed hedges, verdant but neatly mown lawns and immaculate flower beds.
She was working on a tapestry that was to hang in the parish church. It was a picture that she had composed herself: a young blond girl in a white dress standing in a field in a green valley dotted with trees with slightly rocky hills and a river. The girl was looking into the picture towards a resplendent sun. Shreds of white cloud surrounded the sun, and Joy had tried to make it look like they had caught the sunlight. The rendering of nature through the medium of stitched cotton was neat but perhaps a little clumsy. Joy was not quite satisfied with the blues that she had chosen for the river, and thought that it looked a little like a carpet. Robert had remarked that the trees looked like hat stands bedecked with holly and that the grass looked freshly mown. In spite of all this, she was proud of her effort, and felt that what really filled it with life was a quotation from the Book of Revelation in golden brown lettering against the blue sky: ‘And His Countenance Like the Sun Shineth in it’s Strength.’ She was mesmerised by the rhythm of the language of the King James bible and certain that the words represented absolute authority. If their meaning was sometimes obscure or difficult, this increased her certainty as she believed that ultimate reality was something that she would never be mentally equipped to comprehend.
All was serene in the garden, until the moment when the history of this world diverged from our own. In fact, the divergence had occurred many millions of years before, when a distant cosmic catastrophe set an object on a collision course with our home. In our own universe it entered the atmosphere in Tunguska in Siberia, scorching and flattening millions of trees, terrorising eyewitnesses, and killing eleven people. The devastated area was vast, and the local tribes people attributed the destruction to the iron bird god, Ogdy, whose wrath was provoked by the slovenly agricultural practises of the people in the immediate area. In Joy’s world, it incinerated the heart of the richest and most powerful empire the world had ever seen, so the impact on world history was considerably greater.
The arguments over who, if anybody, had been provoked by what would rage for generations.
Too small and bright for a second moon, the blazing object startled Joy as soon as she spotted it against the blue of the sky. It began to elongate, and soon assumed the form of an arrow of fire pointing towards the dome of St Paul’s. The singing of the birds and the rustling of the leaves became submerged beneath a cacophony of discordant sounds as though an orchestra in the bowels of Hell was preparing to play. She turned back to putting the finishing touches to her tapestry, perhaps hoping that things would return to normal, but the phenomenon intensified.
The quickening of her pulse and the heating of her blood were such as she had not experienced since the nightmares of her childhood. The physical symptoms her of fear spawned more fear and soon she felt as if her bones had turned to jelly. Suddenly the cylinder of flame became a second sun, which bloomed and filled the sky. A moment later there was massive, deep thunder.
The dreaming brain can conjure vast scenarios of astonishing detail in a split second, and so it was with Joy in the tiny span of time between the searing of her retinas and the permanent extinction of her mind. She found herself inside the tapestry that she had created, as the girl with blond locks looking towards the sun, and everything was moving and real. The neatly crocheted grass had come alive and was writhing, free and wild. The river flowed and churned. The wet rocks glistened. The moss was vivid green. The burgeoning white heat in the sky had set the clouds on fire. The cows bellowed, their eyes rolled back inside their heads. Every corner of the valley echoed with screams and thunder. Joy’s last sensation was unexpected relief as she submitted to the Judgement of everything she held dear.
more by ALAN KILLIP
photograph by unsplash.com